When you’re in the outdoors, you can choose to build several different types of fires based upon your needs. But campers often just pile up a bunch of sticks and branches teepee-style and set them ablaze without thinking about the purpose of the fire.
Bonfires need to be big, warm blazes to keep people warm, but this same type of fire would scorch a marshmallow in five seconds, flat. Successful cooking fires are more seasoned; they result from often smaller, more mature fires that have an abundance of reddish-orange coals. Imagine a cooking fire as one in which you could (theoretically) place items for cooking directly on the coals (of course…tin foil always helps, as a potato wrapped in tin foil turns out perfectly when cooked on coals).
Smoke fires generally communicate distress, such as the massive smoke fire above, which signaled the forest fire destruction of Waldo Canyon near Colorado Springs in the summer of 2012. Smoke fires are usually the product of green fuel such as live branches and leaves burning, in addition to dry fuel burning. Yes–dry fires create smoke as well, but if you are in a survival situation, and you need to attract the attention of rescuers, be purposeful about the type of fire you build. Choose to build a smoke fire–or even better, choose to build three smoke fires in a triangle configuration to communicate a universally understood sign of distress.
Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.